The guns of the Serapis remained serviceable during the whole action, and their effect on the decayed sides of the Richard was literally to tear her to pieces.
Today’s installment concludes “I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight!”,
our selection from The Life of John Paul Jones by Alexander Slidell Mackenzie published in 1841.
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Previously in “I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight!”
Time: September 23, 1779
Place: North Sea off Flambough Head, Yorkshire, Great Britain
The overwhelming superiority thus possessed by the Serapis was evident in the action. Two of the three lower-deck guns of the Richard burst at the first fire, scattering death on every side, while the guns of the Serapis remained serviceable during the whole action, and their effect on the decayed sides of the Richard was literally to tear her to pieces. On the contrary, the few light guns which continued to be used in the Richard, under the immediate direction of her commander, produced little impression on the hull of the Serapis. They were usefully directed to destroy her masts and clear her upper deck, which, with the aid of the destructive and well-sustained fire from the tops, was eventually effected. The achievement of the victory was, however, wholly and solely due to the immovable courage of Paul Jones. The Richard was beaten more than once; but the spirit of Jones could not be overcome. Captain Pearson was a brave man, and well deserved the honor of knighthood which awaited him on his arrival in England; but Paul Jones had a nature which never could have yielded. Had Pearson been equally indomitable, the Richard, if not boarded from below, would, at last, have gone down with her colors still flying in proud defiance.
The wounded of the Serapis appear, by the surgeon’s report accompanying Captain Pearson’s letter to the Admiralty, to have amounted to seventy-five men, eight of whom died of their wounds. Of the wounded, thirty-three are stated to have been “miserably scorched,” doubtless by the explosion of the cartridges on the main deck. Captain Pearson states that there were many more, both killed and wounded, than appeared on the list, but that he had been unable to ascertain their names. Jones gave the number of wounded on board the Serapis as more than a hundred, and the killed probably as numerous. The surviving prisoners, taken from the Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough, amounted to three hundred fifty; the whole number of prisoners, including those previously taken from captured merchant-vessels, amounted to near five hundred.
During the engagement between the Richard and the Serapis, the Pallas, commanded by Captain Cottineau, seems to have done her duty. She engaged the Countess of Scarborough, and captured her after an hour’s close action. The Pallas was a frigate of thirty-two guns, and the Countess of Scarborough a single-decked ship, mounting twenty six-pounders. The Alliance, in the course of the night, also fired into the Pallas and the Countess of Scarborough, while engaged, and killed several of the Pallas’ men. Subsequent to the engagement it was attested by the mass of officers in the squadron that, about eight o’clock, the Alliance raked the Bonhomme Richard with grape and cross-bar, killing a number of men and dismounting several guns. He afterward made sail for where the Pallas and the Scarborough were engaged, and after hovering about until the latter struck, communicated by hailing with both vessels, and then stood back to the Richard, and coming up on her larboard quarter, about half-past nine, fired again into her; passing along her larboard beam, he then luffed up on her lee bow, and renewed his raking fire. It was proved that the Alliance never passed on the larboard side of the Serapis, but always kept the Richard between her and the enemy. The officers of the Richard were of opinion that Landais’ intention was to kill Jones and disable his ship, so as afterward to have himself an easy victory over the Serapis. As it was, he subsequently claimed the credit of the victory, on the plea of having raked the Serapis. There can be little doubt that he was actuated by jealous and treacherous feelings toward Jones, and by base cowardice. The Vengeance also behaved badly; neither she nor the Alliance made any prizes from among the fleet of merchantmen, and the whole escaped under cover of Flamborough Head and the adjacent harbors. Lieutenant Henry Lunt, who was absent in the pilot-boat with fifteen of the Richard’s best men, lay in sight of the Richard during the action, but “thought it not prudent to go alongside in time of action.” His conduct at least involved a great error of judgment, which no doubt he lived to repent.
The conduct of Jones throughout this battle displayed great skill and the noblest heroism. He carried his ship into action in the most gallant style, and, while he commanded with ability, excited his followers by his personal example. We find him, in the course of the action, himself assisting to lash the ships together, aiding in the service of the only battery from which a fire was still kept up, and, when the Serapis attempted to board, rushing, pike in hand, to meet and repel the assailants. No difficulties or perplexities seemed to appal him or disturb his judgment, and his courage and skill were equaled by his immovable self-composure. The achievement of this victory was solely due to his brilliant display of all the qualities essential to the formation of a great naval commander.
This ends our series of passages on “I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight!” by Alexander Slidell Mackenzie from his book “Life of John Paul Jones”, 1841from his book <i>Life of John Paul Jones</i> published in 1841. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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